Exploring the interrelationship between anxiety, interpretation bias and parenting factors in military families

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Sarah Owen
Submitted: June 2015


Theoretical frameworks suggest that increased anxiety symptoms are associated with a cognitive interpretation bias; anxious individuals are more likely to interpret ambiguous information as threatening and dangerous. Several models have considered the role of parents and parenting in the aetiology of cognitive biases that place children at increased risk for the development of anxiety. For example, parenting characterised by overprotection/emotional overinvolvement and over control has been associated with anxiety disorders in children. The present research explored the association between parent and child anxiety, interpretation biases and parent-child relationships within military families, a population at greater risk of experiencing enduring anxiety.

Twenty children aged 8-11 years and their mothers reported their anxiety symptoms and completed a homophone task. Words could be interpreted as either threatening or non-threatening and were categorised into separation and general threat themes. Parents also completed the Five Minute Speech Sample, where they expressed thoughts and feelings about their child. Results revealed that parent and child anxiety was significantly positively correlated as expected. Children’s anxious cognitions were significantly positively correlated to self-reported and maternal anxiety (ps<.05). In contrast to the expected hypothesis, children and parent interpretation biases were not significantly correlated. Although the research set out to examine the extent to which interpretation biases could act as a mediator between parenting and child anxiety, evidence for a mediated pathway could not be established within the present research. The impact of these findings are discussed with particular reference to the importance of understanding the aetiology of anxiety and exploring the role of the intergenerational transmission of anxiety.

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